Al-Avalathi's Life (Al-Avalathi is the last Mallu to go to the Gelf)
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Letters after my name

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It was yet another very ordinary day in school. I was in class VII. It was lunch break time. When my class teacher asked me to go collect a letter that had come in my name,my excitement just grew beyond what I could handle. Food was not what was important. I ran into the Staff Room.

Alas, it was just a post card. It was a returned letter. Damn you!, Manorama year book. How could the French Consulate’s Chennai address given in it be wrong? My post card asking for tourist brochures and such colorful sheets for a Social Studies project boomeranged. Ya, I know that a boomerang *reaches* the target and then returns,whatever.

The US Consultate address in the year book was not wrong. They sent me loads of information. Yes, loads of information indeed. On history,politics,the presidential campaign(Bill Clinton was running for POTUS then), maps and lots more. That was the time when I learnt that mailing embassies and consulates was the easiest way to handle these school projects.

Those were the days when postcards meant the 15ps ones and not the Rs 2 worth Competition Post Cards. Like many others of my generation, I did play a huge part in the introduction of Competition Post Cards. Who can blame us for sending replies to Siddharth Kak and Renuka Shahane,every week,without fail.

This is much after I started writing letters to companies, and responding to all the contests that came in newspapers and magazines.

Respond to every single contest that comes my way be it in a newspaper or on a product wrapper. Not just contests, I was slightly overboard about writing letters to these companies.
My ideas as a kid was, oh-my-god-my-name-has-reached-[any City]. So, I replied to contests; my name went to Madras,Bombay,New Delhi and beyond. Some sent token gifts like key chains,caps and such.
There used to be this puzzle that came as a newspaper insert. An easy puzzle for any school going kid. Many boxes, many numbers. Fill in to make the sum same diagonally, row/column-wise etc. The prize for this one came by VPP, I never accepted that. Oh yes, it used to be a TV but had to pay some ‘nominal charges’ to receive the prize. That would have been a huge box with trash, I am sure. The prize came from Ahmedabad.
How can I forget those Otto Burlington magazines which had suggest friends [Addresee Pays] cards and I could easily make Otto Burlington send those magazines to all my cousins and neighbours. ;)

And those Reader’s Digest forms. Suggest 20(?) more people and get a Handbook of Word Origins for free, or one of such books. Again, many neighbors actually fell for the letters that read “N Narayanan has suggested your name” and subscribred to RD hoping to win prizes. The prizes were blocks of gold. All you need to subscribe to RD was to stick that *Yes* stamp and send the letter back. VPP was RD’s favorite too.

The earliest of such letters was to Home Lites. They were the ones who brought out huge match boxes, twice as big as a pencil box. I somehow felt their match sticks sparked before they lit up. I was in class III then. I told this to dad. He asked me to write a letter to them. I did. I distinctly remember the four-lined-note book, the Class Work as they used to call then. I tore a sheet from that to send a letter to an adddress that had Wimco Matches and Ballard Estate in that. No, I did not Google this now. :) Did I say that I wrote the letter with pencil? They never replied.

I was always curious to know the “Made in” and manufacturing and expiry dates of products. That I still do. It was when I noticed that a biscuit pack had manufacturing date from the future, I realized that the whole point of dates were idiotic. I don’t recollect the brand; was that Bakeman? It was during the Mahabharata days and this brand’s TVC had Gufi Paintal in it as Shakuni. I remember writing to them. Completely forgot if they replied or not.

Then, that Maggi Club membership I managed after sending a few wrappers. The Candico guys who wished me on my birthday and asked me for suggestions. No body told me they were surveys. The hundreds of contests in Balarama and Tinkle…Learning the word ‘early bird’ from these contests…The card that Eveready sent me with autographs of the Indian team sometime around the B&H World cup ’92…

Talking about contests, how can forget the H,M,T and dots on Re1 coins. You collect 1 each of H,M andT and 2 coins with dots to win an HMT watch. Not sure if someone ever won a watch. The exchange 5 empty (Milma) milk packets for a lucky draw coupon to win a truck load of gold offer,aah!. The immense effort in convincing mom to chuck Kannan Devan and buy AVT Tea for the Swarnadhara Coupons inside. The surprise element in opening the packet. The discount of Rs 2 or 5 that I eventually ended up with. Those days. :|

I kept writing letters. Letters to newspapers and magazines. Some were published. Some weren’t worthy of.

Update: I completely forgot about the Goldspot, Thums Up and Limca bottle cap collections, the collection of plastic animals that came free with Cibaca etc. This post was more like a memory test, and so my failure in recollecting these things are way more than pardonable. :D

PS: Malayala Manorama dated 3rd Jan,2010 printed some words written by me. Online edition

PPS: If numbers matter in this world, then this is published post #200. :)

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January 14, 2010   28 Comments

Capital disaster

What happened to you was quite unfortunate. I would not have known you that early had it not happened to you. Even years later, I skipped a beat when I met someone from you. When I read about you in school,the event haunted me. I had memorized the cause’s name much before I knew Chemistry(thanks to dad). The first in a series of processes in Organic Chemistry,reminded me of the company which later bought the notorious company. You appeared as an example in chapters on environment. Time eroded your significance; you were not as important as you used to be.

Justice denied.You struggle.You exist.You get some attention every year. That gives you the hope to survive.

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November 29, 2009   12 Comments

A quarter century later

I came home early from school.Not school, kindergarten. I was not sure why all of us were fetched in the school van much earlier than usual. Aunt was visiting then. Our Prime Minister was shot dead, she told me. I did not realize how big that news was. I was shocked,that is all. It seemed like a big news, from Amma’s and aunt’s reactions. I had seen that old lady’s photographs in papers. I did not know who killed her. I would not have known the word assassination then. Amma tuned in to AIR that confirmed the news,bulletin after bulletin.

It was before we got TV at home, before DD started their Trivandrum station*. Nor did we have a phone to call up friends or relatives and break the news. Somewhere in P&T(or was it DoT then), our application for a connection was lying. I do not remember much from that day. I rocked my cousin’s cradle. I kept rocking till the ropes hit the ceiling fan blades. The baby was safe. Dad scolded me. He had to mend the fan blades. The next day’s newspapers had more of black ink than usual, a lot lot more. Things were going to be different for India,many said.

*Guess, Keltron was operating a DD-esque station then

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October 30, 2009   7 Comments